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Meet Tony Award-Nominee, Kinky Boots Star Annaleigh Ashford

Kinky_Boots_Broadway_Annaleigh_Ashford_23.jpgCalled the "Goldie Hawn of Broadway," actress Annaleigh Ashford has added her big-eyed-blonde brand of humor, sweetness and all-out goofiness to the ensembles of Legally Blonde: The Musical, Hair, Rent, and Dogfight. But it's only now that she's finally getting the recognition she deserves as the quirky, sassy leading lady (biological lady, that is) in Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein's Broadway version of the 2005 British film, Kinky Boots. Ashford is nominated for her first Tony Award in the Best Featured Actress in a Musical category for her role as Lauren, a shoe-factory worker in a small town north of London, who's the catalyst behind the factory's big change from manufacturing loafers to fetish footwear designed by London drag queen, Lola. As you might have guessed, this savvy move saves the failing shoe business. Here, Ashford talks with us about working with drag queens, what she's looking forward to this Sunday at the Tony Awards and why she can't wear those now-ubiquitous 'kinky boots'...  

You've been a staple on the Broadway scene for years, but it seems like this role has really been your breakout role...  

It's amazing because I really do feel like I've been part of the New York theater community for quite some time now but this role has really given me the opportunity to create something kind of new. She's an unusual character and I'm so grateful for the recognition that I have received during this awards season. 

What's it like working with Cyndi Lauper? 

When you see Cyndi Lauper in person for the first time you're like, "Oh my God she is a pop icon." She's not only a pop icon, but she's also such a part of American culture. Being in the same room as her is kind of overwhelming, but when we were creating the project we spent so much time together. We call her Cyn and every once in a while I'll say, "Oh my God, she's Cyndi Lauper -- she is full-out Cyndi Lauper!" We were walking through Times Square yesterday, from one press event to the next, and I was not thinking anything of it and then Cyndi started to get mobbed. She's been such a wonderful spirit and I think people are really surprised with how musicalized and still how pop-centric [her score] is. 
It must be so exciting to be in a hit show. 

Since the day that the Tony nominations came out, the theater has been crazy banana pants. We've had so many exciting fellow actors come to see the show and people in the entertainment industry. There's nothing like the energy of a new Broadway show. There's electricity from the moment you walk into the theater to the moment you leave.

Who have been some of your favorite people that have come to see the show? 

We've had such a range of people. We've had Broadway superstars like Patti Lupone and Chita Rivera, Bernadette Peters and Glenn Close and then we've had a lot of pop stars because people want to come support Cyndi, so Katy Perry came a couple weeks ago, Sting, Keith Richards...

I bet the opening night party was fun... 

It was huge! And then at one point they played "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," and the whole room just went nuts. It was so special.   

Had you worked with drag queens before this? 

Oh yes, child. My very first show when I was nine years old was Ruthless: The Musical at the Theater on Broadway in Denver Colorado and the part of the Grandma is traditionally played by a man, so I sat next to Steve Kengel -- who played Sylvia St. Croix -- in the dressing room when I was nine years old. Drag queens are nothing new to me, honey! One of my favorite movies growing up was To Wong Fu Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.  

Are you sad that during the finale while the rest of your castmates are wearing the thigh-high 'kinky boots,' you wear hot-pink ankle boots instead? 

Yes, I wear 'kinky booties' instead. I don't really have enough time to change into [the kinky boots] because they're very elaborate, so I found the booties in Chicago. They're very fabulous, but there are moments where I covet those kinky boots. But my knees and my ankles are probably happy that I don't wear them. 

And the rest of the time you get to wear tennis shoes and jeans...   

I wear sneaker wedge shoes the whole first act though nobody ever knows that they're wedge. We always thought that Lauren was a rough and tumble girl but she's a girl who goes to London on the weekends to hear her favorite bands, so she would absolutely have some kind of fierce shoe-age happening underneath those jeans.   

What did you do the morning of the Tony nominations? 

I stayed in my bedroom with my blanket over my head. I just wanted to know when they were over, but I could hear my fiancé [actor Joe Tapper] every time we'd get another nomination he'd be like, "Yeah!" My category was like the very last category so he came in our bedroom and he was like you got nominated! We both cried and hugged each other for a second and then my phone actually blew up.  

Do you know what you are going to wear?

I'm not quite sure, but I think so. I feel like we just went through all this with my sister's prom and now me and my mom and sister are going through it for me with the Tonys -- it's the ultimate prom.  

What are you looking forward to most about Tony night? 

I don't even know. I'm just looking forward to being there and...performing. I've never been to Radio City Music Hall in my life, embarrassingly enough, so it's going to be really exciting.

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